Sandi's Response to Dis of Organic

Stirring Literature

My sister-in-law sent me an email linking the msnbc story about a UK study where they found there was no health advantage to eating organic food.  My first question when a “study” defies common sense such as this is – who funded the research.  My colleague, the amazing Sandi Kaplan, MS, RD, posted the following back story on the Free and Clear blog.  Thanks Sandi!:

The organic food debate was back in the news this week when a study carried out by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine was released. The review study was commissioned by The Food Standards Agency (FSA) to discover whether Britain’s organic industry could claim more health benefits for its products.

Although the study concluded that there was no important nutritional difference between organic and conventional produce, these conclusions have been widely criticized by both respected researchers and organic farmers.  And thank goodness for that, because there are plenty of reasons to mistrust the study’s findings.

Firstly, the study only included 55 out of 162 studies because of particular criteria determined (and not universally agreed upon) by the researchers. When you look at all 162 studies, organic foods were frequently higher in nutrients than conventional produce. For instance, beta carotenes were 53 percent higher and flavanoids 38 percent higher in organic food than non-organic food. Both of those substances are antioxidants which have many health benefits, and these are nutrients that were not even included in the analysis done in the review. A number of other key nutrients were also ignored in the review and, importantly, toxic minerals such as lead, cadmium and arsenic (which can be found in conventional fertilizers) were also not reported.

Also, this FSA review did not look at 15 very recent studies (completed since February 2008) that focus on organic versus conventional foods. An example of a recent study that was not included was published last year in the Journal of Science, Agriculture and Food. This study is part of a large European Union (EU) funded study which was completed in April 2009. It found that organic milk contained around 60 per cent more antioxidants and beneficial fatty acids than normal milk.

Provisional results from another part of the same EU funded study, which has not yet been published, suggests that organic wheat, tomatoes, cabbage, onions and lettuce also had between 10 and 20 percent more vitamins. These results were also not included in the FSA review.

The summary statement from the EU funded study will be released later this year. This study is actual research (rather than a review) and involves 31 research and university institutes.  The results released thus far show that food grown by organic methods contains more vitamins, minerals and beneficial fats and fewer heavy metals, toxins and pesticide residues.

It’s worth noting that many bigwigs at the FSA, the funders of the London group’s review, are former employees of agribusinesses.  Similarly, many of the previously published studies that find a lack of difference between organic and conventional foods were funded by Monsanto or other large agribusinesses with a vested interest in proving that conventionally-grown foods are not inferior.

So personally, I plan to continue to buy and feed my family organic foods as much as possible. And I suspect the bulk of research will continue to support that decision.

Cynthia and Sandi

6 thoughts on “Sandi's Response to Dis of Organic

  1. I honestly don’t know much about it myself except that the local farm I usually get my produce from uses this method.

  2. Hi Cynthia!
    I just had a question… I am trying to make better choices for my kid’s snacks when I am not home (something to leave with dad or grandma) Right now we do fruit, or a meat, cheese crackers or tortilla chips with avocado dip… But I need some more ideas for snacking, do you have anything you can share…. Like what does Joaquin snack on?
    Thank you!

  3. Hi Kay,
    Applesauce, popcorn, vegetables and hummus, sweet glazed nuts or tamari roasted nuts, roasted potatoes (leftovers from dinner!), corn chips and bean dip, dates stuffed with cream cheese, smoothies, granola, peanuts and raisins (and a few chocolate chips).
    That’s 11 ideas!
    Maybe I’ll do a blog post about kid’s snacks and everyone can chime in.
    Cynthia

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